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The Eagle Hears Not the Owl: The Minerva Research Initiative and the Pentagon's 75 million unheard answers M. Chandler Fort Hays State University
Eagle Hears Not The Eagle Hears Not the Owl Introduction
In early 2008 the Department of Defense (DOD) announced a new research initiative called by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates the ‘Minerva Consortia’. Later the Minerva Consortia came to be called the Minerva Research Initiative (MRI) or Project Minerva. It was introduced as a step in creating a new academic capability for the Pentagon to wield in the face of future national security challenges and of course the present disastrous overseas military engagements we seem unable to extricate ourselves from. Project Minerva research is based in universities and focused on social science areas that the DOD has deemed to be of critical importance to national security. Though named for the Roman Goddess of Wisdom, it has been met with withering criticisms. Much of this criticism is founded in age old questions of the appropriate role of scientists and academe in practical and necessarily nationalistic activities of political policy making. There are ethical concerns surrounding the corrosive effects vast sums of money can have. There are still more problems framing the language for a successful interface between social science and practical politics and the fear of research being turned into weapons that justify crimes and atrocities. Amidst all these concerns about Minerva there have been a few arguments made for the Program. These arguments have had at their center the idea that research funds are a good thing, particularly for a field that is accustomed to having limited funding when compared to the physical sciences. Some have expressed a hopeful optimism that perhaps given alternatives to violence the DOD might resort to soft power to influence populations or governments vice armed intervention. While this is full of its own ethical
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dilemmas for example: is soft power a form of armed intervention if the military apparatus is involved? Or what is the role of nationalism in social science? Most social scientists would likely agree that soft power influence is preferable to violent action. There are many other questions raised by this new project and the proposed expenditure of some $75 million over a five year period to fund it. The principle question examined here is whether or not this is something we need to be doing especially now in what the defense department calls a fiscally constrained environment; what those outside the Pentagon know as a weakening economy, ballooning deficits and shrinking budgets. There are already a multitude of federally funded or supported research programs, corporations, institutes and even DOD controlled research facilities available so why Minerva, why now?
Eagle Hears Not What is the Minerva Research Initiative? Genesis
The concept behind Minerva is that the social sciences have been neglected by the Department of Defense and that has forced the military to acquire social science research products in an ad hoc method. This has caused chaos in crafting applications from research and thus inconsistent access to knowledge of value to war fighters in digestible formats that can be readily absorbed into military decision cycles. While it is unlikely that basic research can provide adequate quantities of applicable research to be of any use in policy decisions at the speed required for military decision making, it is hoped that a broader general academic capability can be generated then leveraged in current and future military operations. By adding an academic knowledge base that puts pertinent research in one place it is hoped that the DOD will be able to readily access this knowledge to create soft power applications instead of having to rely exclusively on kinetics (i.e. shooting) and just-in-time delivery of minimal cultural awareness and language skill training of limited value. According to the official project Minerva website (DOD, 2009) its objectives are: 1. To foster and improve the Defense Department’s social science intellectual capital and ability to understand and address security challenges. 2. To support and develop basic research and expertise within the social sciences community in subject areas which may provide insight to current and future challenges. 3. To improve the Defense Department’s relationship with the social science community.
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Of course the objectives of the MRI go far beyond these general goals. What would the DOD do with this research, insights and intellectual capability should Minerva deliver the desired results? Not surprisingly the targeted social science community has reacted with a heated debate. The Social Science Research Council (SSRC) has opened a forum for debate on this (Asher, 2008) and the DOD has taken notice trotting out Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Dr. Tom Mahnken to participate in defense of the project. In military decision making Orientation is a key component. More or less a constant, it is how we understand the world, shaping our decisions and actions. Two key factors of Orientation provide handles to manipulate in any given population – Education and Experience. MRI it is hoped will create access to the educated and their research to broaden the Orientation of our own decision makers thus allowing them more options to change the way targeted social groups Experience their interaction with US foreign policy. In this way it is hoped to shape the decision making in targeted populations in response to our activities (e.g. shock & awe bombing campaigns). With more soft power options utilized, DOD expects a reduced impetus for violent noncompliance with our global security apparatus and the attending nasty headlines. Minerva Research Foci So what areas of social science research have been neglected in the past and are needed now to meet the objectives outlined above? What could be so controversial about a simple social science funding mechanism? What about the broader objectives of
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winning wars present and future? It is absolutely necessary to examine MRI in the context of this larger objective as it is a military program. The MRI Broad Agency Announcement (DOD, 2008) provides these topics of enquiry: 1. Chinese Military and Technology Research and Archive Programs 2. Studies of the Strategic Impact of Religious and Cultural Changes within the Islamic World 3. Iraqi Perspectives Project 4. Studies of Terrorist Organization and Ideologies 5. New Approaches to Understanding Dimensions of National Security, Conflict and Cooperation These research categories are only a part of the heated debate that surrounds Minerva. Beyond concerns about what the research areas are there are important questions about what the research is not. Nowhere in the proposed areas of research is there a call for studies of how decades of U.S. foreign intervention, invasions, occupations, and the systematic violations of human rights worldwide might have at least sparked some little militant opposition (Goldstein, 2008). Still other questions linger about what is meant by soft power and should academia be creating it for use by a military apparatus seeking political ends? Research topic Iraqi Perspectives Project in particular is fraught with ethical and legal problems. The Iraqi National Library and Archives (ILNA) have laid out several arguments against this project and their struggle to have their cultural documents repatriated in accordance with international law and of course in keeping with the ethical traditions of good research (Eskander, 2008). The United States has authorized a project researcher (Mervis, 2009) to
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explore these archives but has not returned them to their rightful owners. A clear violation of international law, a problem we’ll see more of later. There are many other questions and arguments surrounding the MRI that seem to create more obstacles to meeting its stated objectives than opportunities which will be discussed later. As MRI is a research funding vehicle lets take a look at the budget for this problematic initiative. Minerva Research Budget Minerva proposes to obtain its objectives with an estimated $10-20 million per year with an estimated maximum payout of $75 million over five years. A significant amount of taxpayer money is at stake here, but while the DOD may consider this amount modest how does it stack up against other research funding sources available to the social sciences? What does it mean for the importance DOD places on this research? Krebs (2008) essay: The National Science Foundation’s 2009 request for the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences was $233.5 million—around 20 times the size of Minerva. In 2007 the Ford Foundation disbursed some $656 million on various grants (basic research constituting only a portion of this impressive sum)—around 65 times the size of Minerva. Minerva’s proposed expenditures are on the order of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, which in 2007 disbursed about $12.5 million in fellowships and grants. A substantial sum then, but hardly one poised to radically reconfigure disciplinary priorities (Krebs, 2008). That MRI can achieve its aims of reconfiguring research priorities to serve national defense goals is questionable when we consider the budgets of well established research
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consortia, some tied to the U.S. Government or DOD directly have not been able to with their own budgets that dwarf MRI. So how is this taxpayer money being spent to best achieve these aims? What innovative approach is to be employed to maximize the impact of our $75 million? Project Status A little more than one year since the April 2008 announcement of the initiative (Gates, 2008) Minerva has disbursed approximately $18 million and is set to disburse another like amount in the spring or summer of 2009 (Mervis, 2009). These grants are in support of the seven currently approved projects (DOD, 2009). Many researchers are already affiliated with DOD through previous projects done for the military. This is not a formula for meeting the objectives of the initiative. It gives the appearance of being a kick back to researchers for pet projects in reward for loyalty and lending their credentials to the DOD, not an outreach to build new bridges with academic powers as yet unavailable to the military. There is little more to report so far due in part to the nature of the research and the attitudes of at least one principal investigator of an approved MRI project who would not respond to questions (Mervis, 2009). Ghosts of Science Past Few of the critiques aimed at Minerva spontaneously manifested overnight as a response to this one relatively small and intellectually defective military project on its own faults and merits. The response to Minerva is only part of a larger debate that has been with us for most of the 20th century as applied social sciences have come to plague western governments (Horowitz, 1967). The appropriate role of scientists in policy making as well as the appropriate role of a complex military apparatus in the academy
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have been brought into sharp focus by similar military sponsored social science research projects that have come before. The ghost of science past that holds the most relevant lessons for us in understanding Minerva may be Project Camelot of the early sixties. It was cancelled after only one year following an embarrassing episode sparked by foreign press revolving around DOD intentions and the appropriateness of military control vice the more palatable civilian options available for social research control (e.g. State Department, Dept. of Education). It was politics not ethical or intellectual defects in Camelot's design that suddenly ended the project (Horowitz, 1967). Other similar projects conducted by the government such as Project Agile (Deitchman, 1976) have met similar fates for similar reasons. What could this mean for MRI and our $75 million? The Debate Thus Far The SSRC forum for this debate has organized around three general areas, they are: Arguments for and against Minerva, the Minerva Research Categories and the Military and the Social Sciences. The American Anthropological and American Sociological Associations have also been discussing questions about MRI relevant to their own disciplines. There are many other debates about the MRI and the questions it raises occurring in Higher Education circles as well. Some voices in the discussion come from persons and groups outside our own borders, and this is significant for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that in the case of Project Camelot, it was a foreign press exposure of the project that doomed it. The transnational nature of the debate is appropriate as our military apparatus operates in many territories beyond our borders as have the militaries of past empires long since buried.
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Let's begin our examination of the Minerva Project debates with the arguments for and against it. While there have been few arguments for Minerva, we find that even its harshest critics have expressed some hope that the research activities spurred by the MRI might provide some benefit to the sciences. In one case it is observed that Minerva creates more opportunities than problems and that the right way to frame Minerva is as part of the larger transformation of American knowledge institutions to bring their capacities to bear on policy (Bracken, 2008). Some arguing for Minerva posit that though there may be some corrosive effects of military patronage, funding does not necessarily create a superordinate (military) subordinate (university based researchers) relationship reducing the academy to a vendor filling an order under tight specifications to a wealthy client (Krebs, 2008). In the case of Project Camelot for example the researchers spent as much time debating each others findings and methods as they did the governments assumptions and processes (Horowitz, 1967). The most powerful argument for Minerva is the potential, albeit latent and with the odds stacked against it for breaking the inside the beltway military think industries monopoly on research that shapes national security policy. Most of the researchers involved in MRI are from outside the beltway and do not share the lifework perspectives of those in the loop (Bracken, 2008). This may be a significant unspoken objective of Minerva but it is not an argument anyone is actively making. To be certain there are other arguments in support of the project. Some seeking relevance and influence have argued for increased partnerships and a new discipline of
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policy science or public sociology and fear that if Minerva is not embraced scientists could miss an opportunity to meaningfully affect how the defense community frames and addresses perceived security problems (Corona, 2008). In another case it is observed that social scientists in western nations have been too critical of their governments, risking irrelevancy by indulging in a tendency towards ‘unengaged critique’ (Wickham, 2008). This may be part of why proponents of Minerva feel it is a necessary program – to create engaged critique to further increase the relevancy and influence of the sciences. In any case even those most in favor of MRI have expressed deep concerns further developed by those who are opposed to Minerva. Against Arguments against the initiative outnumber arguments for it. Much of the argument against MRI surrounds the social science and military or practical political interface. Many of the questions about this interface have never been resolved; indeed it is unlikely that they will be. In one case anthropologist Dr. Setha M. Low, president of the American Anthropological Association and professor of environmental psychology, Graduate Center of the City University of New York wrote to the Office of Management and Budget in May of 2008 immediately following the April announcement launching MRI. Low (2008) writing for the AAA: We believe that it is of paramount importance for anthropologists to study the roots of terrorism and other forms of violence, and to seek answers to the urgent questions voiced by many in the United States and other countries since the attacks of September 11. However, we are deeply concerned that funding such research through the Pentagon may pose a potential conflict of interest and undermine the practices of peer review that play such a
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vital role in maintaining the integrity of research in social-science disciplines. From a practical standpoint, we believe it would be more efficient and more likely to produce authoritative results if Pentagon support for such research was managed through such agencies as the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Rigorous, balanced, and objective peer review is the bedrock of successful and productive programs that sponsor academic research. Agencies such as NSF, NIH, and NEH have decades of experience in building an infrastructure of respected peer reviewers (Low, 2008) In the face of these powerful objections by such prominent scientists the Department of Defense crafted a concession. They offered a second proposal channel through a partnership with the National Science Foundation (NSF). It is apparent though from friction between the NSF and DOD that the former has some reservations about working with the latter (Glenn, 2008). Continuing Dr Low’s theme of potential for damage to the disciplines credibility, others have warned about the corrosive effective of military involvement and politicization. Sahlins (2008) on trends in higher education: In the first place it was the university that politicized the professors. In the period of 1940-90, marked by hot and cold wars, substantial government funding committed higher learning to the nation state as constituted: that was the "social" it largely served, and the US military and political interests were the "good." The politics of the cold was having been insinuated into nearly every cranny of the academy and practically every subject matter... (p. 6).
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This illustrates the danger to the academy in pursuing funding – the strings attached. In this case the strings are nationalistic objectives which often necessitate discarding the broader cosmopolitan ideal of a universal social science (Horowitz, 1967). Some contend that the University should be a critic and not an accomplice of the military and the state (Glenn, 2008). One argument from Australia suggests discarding the moral component of the sciences approach to critiquing government in favor of a legal-political model in order to create new opportunities for the sciences to be engaged in an influential and relevant way – in essence suggesting that it is incumbent on the sciences to change in order to be effective and involved in policy making (Wickham, 2008). While arguing for involvement in politics in a manner relevant to the MRI, this observation from Australia is offered as evidence of the transnational struggle to find an appropriate state-science interface in which both sides must share some responsibility for the ends and the means used to achieve them. Beyond the larger question of the interface between science and practical politics, there are also questions that are very specific to MRI and its research topics. Essentially three of the areas are about terrorism. Item two assumes that religion is a proximate cause of terrorism which is not borne out by research already done on the subject (Tirman, 2008). Then there are questions about what is meant by soft power and leverage? Interestingly enough one can find an excellent explanation of soft power being used by another nation in an area we would like to dominate in a piece of basic research of the type MRI intends to spend $75 million to duplicate. Titled ‘China in Africa: Challenging US Global Hegemony’ by Horace Campbell of Syracuse University it illustrates what is meant by soft power in military parlance. Soft power is about access to resources: oil,
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mineral and other commodities without relying on kinetics. Using national strategy documents Campbell explains soft power is about preventing potential global competitors i.e. China, from emerging without engaging them militarily in direct action –hot war. Essentially this is the old cold war strategy for control of the global chessboard when the opponent is a nuclear power (Campbell 2008). This piece also illustrates significant problems in our ability to relate to the global social that is a major sticking point in the debate about the MRI. More troubling then is that in pursuit of leverage and soft power is what the MRI research might lead to in pursuit of empire. The blistering critique below is aimed specifically at the MRI research topics and comes from France for still more transnational flavor. Joxe (2008) essay translated by Nicolas Guilhot: The five items of the Minerva program are heteroclite, but their objects belong to the clear-cut categories that define the unilateralist and imperial “world vision” of the recent US governments (since George W. Bush, but in some respects even since Bill Clinton). In part, this initiative promotes cultural and behavioral research in order to have a handle on possible manipulations of the sensitivities and the public opinion of occupied populations, in order to ensure its submission or its rallying by terrorizing or corrupting it. In France, one knows very well what this means and why it can lead a democracy to violate the human rights of the opponent by criminalizing him and even to rely on torture, in the name of a struggle for the absolute good. (Joxe, 2008)
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This position against academia participating in practical politics to diminish or deny the humanity of a target social thereby justifying torture (or worse) is especially poignant in light of recent revelations about our governments own secret pogrom (Bybee & Bradbury 2002-2005). Ethical and humane considerations must give pause to researchers seeking to make a name for themselves or universities seeking to grow their own cash reserves. We must ask ourselves before accepting the Minerva deal with the devil: what else are they using this knowledge for? What horrors are we visiting on other societies but have not yet learned of? What crimes and atrocities will MRI researchers work help to justify? There are other pitfalls but none as urgent as Minerva’s potential for weaponizing knowledge aimed at noncompliant resistors of our global security apparatus. With the plethora of social science research available publicly and commercially –in books, through universities, and with all the great advancements and the proven efficacy of the social sciences to American government policy, we are still torturing people. We have ignored more than the simple research or expert testimony that torture is the wrong thing to do, is ineffective, and can only serve to make the world a more dangerous place – we have ignored international law founded on those ideas. What then could make this military machine receptive to research and advice on new ways to approach security challenges when it continues to find incentive and success in primitive and intellectually lazy means such as torture? The problem may be that when you have a hammer, you tend to see all your problems as a nail. How to make the problem currently understood to be a nail instead seen as two
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pieces of lumber needing to be brought together? The tiny $75 million for Minerva Research is wholly inadequate to this task which brings us back to the question: is this necessary? Why the Minerva Research Initiative Is Unnecessary A simple survey of topics like those suggested research areas under the Minerva Project reveals limitless variety of research available for use by the government or any one else interested in understanding the world. The DOD initially denied the research MRI seeks to accomplish is available stating that it is not being done out there (Glenn, 2008). Now DOD acknowledges that the research and researchers are out there with precisely the capability the DOD needs but Dr. Mahnken has stated that though this is the case “you've got individual scholars who are scattered across the country. And the interest there [in MRI] is really bringing together and networking those folks.” What does $75 million to network folks mean? If one considers the enormous military think business already in place, what does this small by defense standards research effort amount to? Compare Minerva Research numbers to other budgets out there in national security research and thought production. The Office of Naval Research budget for 2006 was $1.6 billion. And the department of defense has several similar institutes at its disposal for conducting research. There are the Peace Keeping and Stability Institute (PKSOI) and Strategic Studies Institute (SSI), both at the Army War College in Pennsylvania, the National Defense University with campuses in D.C. and Virginia, et al. with robust operating budgets. Then there are the federally funded or assisted corporations and thought producers such as the RAND Corporation which provide top quality research bang for the taxpayers’ bucks. Or do they? What of other
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federal agencies employing social scientists many of whom are ‘area specialists’ (a DOD encouraged specialty) such as the CIA and DHS? Are they not producing useful research or insights prepackaged in easily digestible formats for the DOD? Isn’t the unclassified portion of the intelligence communities’ collective annual budgets in the tens of billions? At this point it appears the $75 million is an unnecessary waste of taxpayer monies. Just a drop in the federal budget bucket but to the average taxpayer its more money than they’ll earn in their lifetimes or can even imagine. Why amidst an economy in decline, wars costing us millions of dollars per hour and ballooning deficits are we making this expenditure for the convenience of networking existing research? We know at this point that Minerva will likely be killed for political reasons as was Project Camelot (Horowitz, 1967). Either an allied nation will complain as are some Iraqi scholars now (Eskander, 2008) or the inside the beltway DOD think industry will complain to their favorite congressional legislation producers to kill a source of competition for increasingly scarce defense dollars. With defense funding in chaos should we be spending precious taxpayer dollars in this way? Something else is at work here and evidence is pointing towards a fissure between the secretary of defense and his departments think machine. It’s no secret that the current Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, a former University President, has been at odds with the pentagon’s top brass. The recent very public firing of the Air Force Chief of Staff and Air Force Secretary combined with his about face on budget priorities are indicators of a war between the civilian administration and the militaries uniformed leadership and their parasitic contractors (Spiegel, 2009). Secretary of Defense Gates obviously frustrated in getting straight talk and cooperation from his own people has taken this sum too small to
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be noticed in the beltway in order to bring in minds from outside the beltway under the Minerva auspices because the national security think industry is hopelessly broken. So is Minerva really another salvo in the Secretary’s battle to reform the Department under his care? If this is a move to gain leverage to reform the inside the beltway think industry then it has already failed. The 211 submissions have resulted in only seven approved projects. Researcher projects do not appear to be ground breaking and some of the research is being led by those perhaps already in league with the poorly performing DOD think machines (Mervis, 2008). In any case its $75 million wasted under Minerva, and tens of billions on the rest of the under performing national security think industry (Bracken, 2008). Were Minerva to succeed in creating applicable research products or attractive new approaches to security would anyone inside the halls of power listen? Would it then prove to have been a good investment, indeed necessary? Our recent public episode with torture says no – this of course assuming social science researchers in the beltway were not the ones to provide research in support of torture. National security strategy documents that guide policy and have not been yet appreciably altered by the new administration also seem to point to the bureaucracy being unable to incorporate wisdom of the kind MRI might create. It is highly unlikely that the American Empire will cease its relentless, self destructive pursuit of global hegemony simply because Minerva’s researchers reach a sensible conclusion that our own behavior in the foreign policy arena has already sown the seeds of future conflict. It is not only the governments thought industry MRI has to compete with or our empirical hubris that has to be overcome; there are very real dollars at stake. The
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enormous defense industry – the one that builds fighter planes and bombs that has payrolls to make and shareholders to answer to does not want soft power to prevail. They make their fortune on kinetic solutions to human problems and always have. National security strategy is formed on these considerations: profit, access to and control of markets and oil of course. That war is a racket for profiteers is nothing new but the scale and influence these profiteers have achieved is unprecedented. Our defense industry has a powerful built in defense. It maintains operations in as many influential congressional districts that it can. The F-22 Raptor, cancelled by the Secretary Gates may yet earn a reprieve from congress as its manufacturing apparatus is spread across some twenty states. It is difficult to image how a tiny research initiative with $75 million to spend (vs. $135 million for one F-22) can bring this industry and its congressional protectors to acknowledge that we cannot continue to execute national security strategy as we are doing if we wish to survive. That jobs building expensive new weapons systems are at stake will likely trump wisdom produced by MRI or even the word of Jesus should he make a research proposal submission to Minerva through the alternate National Science Foundation channel. If Minerva researchers come to other (intended) conclusions, a number of pacification strategies for instance and can successfully sell this magic formula to the administration, which include justification for expensive gold plated wonder weapons to placate the purveyors of these wares then what? Under the tyranny of such concepts espoused by experts like those employed by the British Empire in Iraq following the First World War, the sun finally set on that empire.
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Satia (2008) contribution to the SSRC forum: The experts’ presence on the scene was both comforting and blinding; with such sympathetic characters in charge, how could the forces of the British state possibly go wrong? When Arab resistance persisted, the experts immediately put it down to foreign manipulation — variously the Russians, French, Turks, Germans, and others — anything but genuine local protest against European rule. They simply could not swallow the rebels’ verdict on their so-called expertise. Such conspiracy-thinking was stoked by their internecine competition for influence — the inevitable danger attending state patronage. The academic’s, and especially the genius’s, Achilles’ heel is the lust for influence; hence the appeal of an initiative like Minerva. (Satia, 2008) Today we have General Patreaus and the Minerva researchers lusting for influence instead of T.E. Lawrence with Iran and Pakistan playing the role of foreign manipulators. While Historical parables are never quite perfect it’s hard to find a better fit for our current situation. Again this brings us again to the conclusion that Minerva is unnecessary and indeed if only partially successful could be terrifyingly counterproductive. Minerva if truly intended to enable us to think our way out of this mess we have created is doomed to fail. If it is a wake up call for our current think industry it is again doomed to fail. If Minerva is most successful then it will only tell us that we must recoil from our current imperial aspirations, reign in our military, and behave not as the ruler or street cop of our planet but as a good neighbor upon it and remember the first lesson taught to every child beginning karate classes for the first time – that our power is only to be used in self defense. $75 million to learn this can be nothing but an unnecessary waste spent on a message the military and its industrial parasites will not want to hear.
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There is Another Way Unengaged criticism is not what this paper is about, rather than leave the DOD directionless after the MRI is killed – either through political or financial pressures, let us engage in the national security debate with all of what we know about MRI and attempt to outline a better way. Let’s start with the people making the decisions, framing the arguments, writing the plans deep within the Pentagon – the senior uniformed leadership. Where do they come from? Many of our militaries top leaders come from the service academies – the United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point to be specific. USMA has included ‘cultural knowledge understanding’ as a part of their curricula since the early 2000s. A recent assessment of this painted a rosy picture of the confidence the Cadets in their senior year felt in being able to understand cultural issues and perspectives (Forest, 2005). What this will mean for the future is hard to tell as the Cadets of the 2005 class are only at the rank of Captain now and do not influence anything. Some may have advanced to Major which will mean staff assignments or graduate studies and in a few years they will be leading battalions. Another complication in assessing the value and impact of this new curriculum at USMA is the high attrition rate of these junior officers and leaders drawn from other commissioning sources. Undoubtedly this is a step in the right direction. We must keep in mind that the uniformed leadership, certainly the Cadets of the class of 2005, does not own the blame for our state of national security policy planning or the MRI design.
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What is striking about the USMA’s new curricula is precisely that it is new. Before 9/11 there wasn’t much use for cultural knowledge or social sciences in what has traditionally been an engineering undergraduate college owing to an outlook on warfare dating back to the Civil and First World War eras. This thinking continues to trap our senior leaders in a true quagmire of obsolete thought. Many have written extensively about the problems of personnel selection, junior officer attrition, education and promotion as well as military decision making, force structure and other critical national security concerns that need to be addressed to provide us with a force better suited to our needs. While reform minded thinkers and decorated warriors have been advocating alternate paths for the future they have also provided lessons that can be applied to reshaping the next version of Minerva. As an example of how to apply these lessons to the future MRI Chester Richards suggests an alternate force structure in his 2003 book “A Swift Elusive Sword” with a large portion of the DOD turned into a force of civil affairs oriented troops who would not make kinetics their focus but instead wield soft power almost exclusively. Others make a similar case as in Thomas P.M. Barnett’s 2004 book “The Pentagon’s New Map”. While interesting and perhaps useful guide posts in redesigning the Defense Department they fail to shift focus away from posturing our military apparatus as global military policeman and back to defender of the homeland and the global commons we share (think shipping lanes and piracy). They don’t get it right either but they give us a good direction for resources to flow in; State Department diplomacy and Agency for International Development (USAID) programs spending on butter not bullets.
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Back to our young leaders though, where they come from and what role they play in all of this. In the future MRI we should focus on them and how to interface the sciences and practical politics without homogenizing or compromising the integrity of either. We could imbed a significant number of our young military personnel identified as having the capability to perform graduate work as done now at the USMA (Forest, 2005) and instead of sending all of them to the USMA to teach, send some of them to graduate schools for liberal social science research skills and into the think machine after some field experience in a civil endeavor perhaps with the NSF or State Department. These personnel have already proven their courage and devotion to the nation and possess the necessary atmospheric knowledge of the DOD environs to readily apply newly acquired research skills and perspectives to national security problems. They could be a powerful cadre to help bring about needed reforms the Secretary of Defense is making it his mission to enact. These future leaders with broader personal perspectives (Orientations) could help us avoid a future filled with endless intractable wars. Teach these young warriors to go conduct their own research and be skilled consumers of existing products to reduce dependence on the broken thought machine in place handing them ready made packets of research limiting their options. Teach them to fish. A less ambitious restructure of the next MRI would be a smaller cheaper research into what is already available to answer some of the most pressing questions. For example, MRI research topic number two ‘Studies of the Strategic Impact of Religious and Cultural Changes within the Islamic World’ could be in part at least answered by several selections easily available to anyone who can use Amazon.com or Google Scholar.
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First, ‘Islam and Democracy: Fear of the Modern World’ by Dr. Mernissi is an excellent work that describes how many modern ideas are being adapted and absorbed into the Arab world of which she is a part. Her perspective is invaluable in understanding what does and does not work in manipulating the sensibilities of the Arab street in part because she lives there and is a professor in Morocco. A more popular selection, “The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror” by Bernard Lewis is on a few military reading lists owing in part to name recognition perhaps. It is good piece from someone who has spent time in the Middle East but maintains a western perspective. To understand what got us here in the first place “A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Making of the Modern Middle East” by Fromkin is a difficult read but most thoughtfully and carefully researched. The careful attention to detail and insight to the imperial decision making processes make this a must for anyone who wishes to find employ in national security policy research. Lives could still be saved by understanding “Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan” by Kaplan or (the 1990 original version). In this work key personalities are profiled, loyalties and tribal fractions are exposed and much of how Afghanistan came to be in a state of apparently perpetual war is explained. Also readily apparent is the impossibility of dominance of these people by any foreign invader. Alexander the Great had to marry into the local dominant tribe to win a stalemate so his Army could go beyond towards India. It is unlikely Mr. Obama or Secretary Gates would take this step to quell the fighting there. Or that it would have the same effect given the
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current state of the conflict where we are already losing and have nothing to offer the Afghans. Another work serving as a powerful reminder of the danger of unrealistic expectations of thought products “Intelligence in War: The value--and limitations--of what the military can learn about the enemy” by Keegan, should also be incorporated into the design of whatever comes after MRI. None of these works are obscure but only one appears on any military reading lists with regularity -Lewis’s work. Much of the other material has the benefit of predating the 9/11 watershed. This is not to suggest that these works alone are a prescription for what ails the military think industry or the MRI but to show that there are readily available works full of wisdom to be combined in an infinite number of ways all of which likely could be incorporated into defense thought for less than $75 million and without having to wait years for more redundant research to be done. Better designs for Minerva could be the topic of a large book, within the scale of this work we have to leave it at this; there are better ways to do what Minerva seeks to do without wasting such enormous sums of taxpayer money – perhaps if the funds were to be taken from the underperforming think machine currently operating is but one simple suggestion this paper can make for improving Minerva. Conclusion That there are innumerable voices available should the Department of Defense choose to listen is readily apparent even to the most novice researcher. It cost little to discover this fact, indeed the DOD does not deny it. There is no evidence that this expenditure will succeed in its aims to any measurable degree or in any way contribute to the defense of
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our nation where much larger and well resourced efforts continue to fail. There is no evidence to suggest that the DOD has started the Minerva Research Initiative with a sober examination of its own irrational language and behavior or first addressing the underlying questions that have plagued similar projects in the past. Without these first steps MRI is doomed to irrelevancy and eventual cancellation resulting in greater waste of resources. Should the program approach something like success there is nothing to suggest that will help us find a better way to protect America. There is nothing to suggest that even the most wonderfully successful research costing us a hundred times what Minerva does will result in national security policies that would discard torture as a tactic. Indeed Minerva may only succeed in finding some tortured justification for more focused and efficient future torture initiatives. Without first addressing the problems of framing and language interface, political control versus academic, proper research foci, and legal and ethical problems in a drastic restructuring of MRI it is a fool’s errand. The question is not if Minerva is unnecessary; it certainly is unnecessary. It fails to ask questions that are not trapped in a framework of irrational language. This prevents the DOD from comprehending answers being shouted at it by others already conducting research MRI only seeks to duplicate or connect for convenience. Worse MRI invites no discussion or investigation into the greatest challenges to national security policy - the unchecked influence of the defense industry, an indifferent congress and the inertia of Pentagon bureaucracy. Not only is the Minerva Research Initiative a tragic waste of taxpayer monies but it points to a greater tragedy: its wasteful existence is only a symptom of systemic waste in government that threatens national security to the same or greater degree than do any enemies imagined or real.
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A better use for the $75 million would be to provide warmth for our troops sheltering high in the Hindu Kush. Throw it in a hole and set it alight.
Eagle Hears Not Works Cited
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DOD, (2008). Broad agency announcement number W911NF-08-R-0007. Retrieved May 4, 2009, from Funding Tracks Web site: http://minerva.dtic.mil/funding_BAA.html DOD, (2009). Minerva Initiative. Retrieved May 4, 2009, from The Minerva Initiative Web site: http://minerva.dtic.mil/index.html Eskander, S. (2008, 10, 29). Minerva research initiative: Searching for the truth or denying the iraqis the rights to know the truth? Retrieved May 4, 2009, from The Minerva Controversy Web site: http://www.ssrc.org/essays/minerva/2008/10/29/eskander/ Forest, J. J. F. (2005).Teaching cultural perspectives to future army officers at west point. Journal of Political Science Education. 1, 61-82. Fromkin, D. (1989). A peace to end all peace: The fall of the ottoman empire and the creation of the modern middle east. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Co. Gates, R. M. (2008, 04, 18). Speech. Retrieved May 4, 2009, from Defenselink Speech Web site: http://www.defenselink.mil/speeches/speech.aspx?speechid=1228 Glenn, D. (2008).Old fears haunt new social science. Chronicle of Higher Education. 54, A3. Goldstein, E. R. (2008).Enlisting social scientists. Chronicle of Higher Education. 54, B4.
Eagle Hears Not Horowitz, I (1967). The rise and fall of project camelot: Studies in the relationship between social science and practical politics. Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England: The M.I.T. Press.
Joxe, A. (2008, 10, 27). Should the social sciences contribute to the art of war in the era of securitization? or to the crafting of peace. Retrieved May 4, 2009, from The Minerva Controversy Web site: http://www.ssrc.org/essays/minerva/2008/10/27/joxe/ Kaplan, R. D. (2001). Soldiers of god: With islamic warriors in afghanistan and pakistan. New York, NY: Vintage Books. Keegan, J. (2004). Intelligence in war: The value--and limitations--of what the military can learn about the enemy. Ney York, NY: Vintage Books. Krebs, R. R. (2008, 11, 19). Minerva: Unclipping the owl's wings. Retrieved May 4, 2009, from The Minerva Controversy Web site: http://www.ssrc.org/essays/minerva/2008/11/19/krebs/ Lewis, B. (2003). The crisis of islam - holy war and unholy terror. New York, NY: Random House. Mahnken, T. (2008, 12, 30). Building bridges and communities. Retrieved May 4, 2009, from The Minerva Controversy Web site: http://www.ssrc.org/essays/minerva/2008/12/30/mahnken/ Mernissi, F. (1992). Islam and democracy: Fear of the modern world. Reading, MA: Perseus Publishing.
Eagle Hears Not Mervis, J (2009).DOD funds new views on conflict with its first minerva grants: The
pentagon makes a $45 million bet that social scientists can help it understand the world-and protect the United States. Science. 323, 576-577. Richards, C. W. (2003). A swift, elusive sword: What if sun tzu and john boyd did a national defense review? Washington, D.C.: Center for Defense Information. Sahlins, M (2008).The conflicts of the faculty. Anthropology News. 49, 5-6. Satia, P. (2008, 10, 17). The forgotten history of knowledge and power in british iraq, or why minerva's owl cannot fly. Retrieved May 4, 2009, from The Minerva Controversy Web site: http://www.ssrc.org/essays/minerva/2008/10/17/satia/ Spiegel, P. (2009, 04, 16). Gates takes on pentagon. Wall Street Journal, p. Pg. 5. Tirman, J. (2008, 10, 09). Pentagon priorities and the minerva program. Retrieved May 4, 2009, from The Minerva Controversy Web site: http://www.ssrc.org/essays/minerva/2008/10/09/tirman/ Wickham, G (2008).High society: Are our social sciences as relevant to government as they might be? Australian Universities' Review. 50, 25-32.